Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Marin Waterfall Hike - Pacheco Falls - 3/28/12

          When I think of Novato the image of dry rolling hills studded with oaks comes to mind; certainly not verdant canyons filled with cascading waterfalls. However, two seasonal creeks provide steep terrain showcasing a series of fascinating waterfalls. Both Arroyo de San Jose and Pacheco Creeks behold waterfalls that rival the beauty of any in the county.
          The trail begins at the terminus of Pacheco Creek Dr. in the quiet Pacheco Valle neighborhood in Novato. A small path leads away from the road along the creek and into another world. I followed the trail as it climbed gently uphill crisscrossing the creek beneath a stand of bay laurel.
          Several minutes later the trail thinned out significantly as I approached the first of a series of waterfalls. The first waterfall is set a little ways off from the trail deeper in the canyon with picturesque cascades just downstream from the base. You have to cross the creek to see the falls proper.
Lower Cascades

Pacheco Creek Canyon

          Ferns dangled from the steep hillsides swaying with the breeze caused by the falling water. A typical viewing area or platform is vacant from this rugged environment and a fair view of the falls beauty must be earned, especially the tiers farther up the canyon.

Lower Pacheco Falls

Leaving Lower Falls

          Beyond the lower falls I ascended a “goat path”, which traversed precariously close to the edge of the steep canyon embankment. Blue Dicks were in bloom on the dry grassy hillsides as was the occasional iris, most faded to white.

Blue Dick

          The trail continues to climb the extremely erosive hillside before coming to the next waterfall. The second falls are graced with large moss covered boulders strewn about the base. Deeply shaded, the base of the waterfall is starting to get overgrown with bay laurel.

Middle Pacheco Falls

Pacheco Creek Middle Falls

Middle Falls with Emerald Base

Middle Falls viewed from up the hillside

          Further up and off of the trail I could see a potentially gorgeous waterfall largely obscured by poison oak. The poison oak was so thick on the approach I negated my attempt altogether. This hidden fall was actually the bottom tier to an even bigger Upper Falls. I followed the trail up an extremely steep switchback and out into the sun. I was soon looking down on a fine set of falls with scattered buckeye trees grabbing onto the hillsides. From that vantage the gentle stream ahead meandered through a dense cropping of Star Lilies as it approached the brink and plunged downward on its ever quest to reach sea level. I climbed down beside the falls and relaxed, waiting for the sun to set behind the ridge line offering better light for photographs.

Upper Pacheco Falls

Blooming Blue Dicks at the banks of Upper Falls

View from Upper Falls

          As I relaxed, I realized I had enjoyed the entire hike in solitude. What a fine day indeed when one can find isolation at such an energetic place situated so close to the frenzy of civilization.

Upper Pacheco Falls

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Burrowing Owls - Cesar Chavez Park - 3/7/12

          Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley happens to be a sought after spot for burrowing owls to spend their winter. The countless ground squirrels and their burrows provide turnkey homes for the migrating owls.
          I’ve spent several of my lunch breaks down at the park looking for the hard to find little critters. Typically you can have good luck near the northeast corner of the park where they’ve put in a special art installation to help protect the owl’s habitat. This year I believe they’ve reported seeing at least four birds at Cesar Chavez and a couple more at the Berkeley Meadow. I’ve been able to locate three of the owls at Cesar Chavez; however, only one of them was positioned for a decent picture.

Burrowing Owl

          Hoping to get some video footage I showed up at Cesar Chavez before sunrise and went looking for the owls near their burrows. I spotted one in the fenced off northeast corner which was too far away for any photos. I didn’t have any luck finding the others and so I enjoyed the sunrise before leaving to go to work.
Sunrise Over the Bay

          As the sun rose, the lookout on Mt. Tamalpais, reflecting the suns rays, lit up like a beacon.

East Peak Reflections